'30 Rock' has many rivals for top honors

This year’s mix of past kudo winners, returning nominees and

up-and-coming contenders should make watching For Your Consideration screeners a pleasure for Academy voters.

“30 Rock”
(NBC)
Strengths: The peerless chemistry between Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, who remain a post-modern Mary Richards and Lou Grant.
Weaknesses: Cartoon qualities of supporting characters are making fresh new stories a strain for writers.
Best days ahead or behind?: Remains a cut above most, but the peak seems to have past.
– Jon Weisman

“The Big Bang Theory”
(CBS)
Strengths: Endearing characters played by a likeable cast, led by the immensely talented Jim Parsons, and the ability to generate consistent laughs.
Weaknesses: For a while it appeared that the writers were catering too much to Parsons at the expense of the others, but since then the wealth has been spread again.
Best days ahead or behind?: Hard to imagine the series getting any better, but it could ride a long peak.
– Jon Weisman

“Californication”
(Showtime)
Strengths: The writing is tart, smart and funny. Despite his drunken, lothario ways, Hank Moody (David Duchovny) is one of the most articulate characters on television. For bookworms who appreciate a keen literary reference, nothing beats this show.
Weaknesses: Most of last season, Moody’s soulmate/baby mama Karen was living in New York, leaving the commitment-phobic lead character free to sleep with, drink with and screw with pretty anyone he wanted. With few consequences, Moody’s likability factor slightly waned.
Best days ahead or behind?: Given last season’s cliffhanger with Moody facing near-certain incarceration, fans of the show are anxious to see what will happen to their favorite washed-up book author.
– Malina Saval

“Chuck”
(NBC)
Strengths: The most joie de vivre of any hourlong series this side of “Glee,” with an underrated supporting cast including (but not limited to) Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin.
Weaknesses: Plots can seem contrived at times, though usually viewers are happy enough to roll with it.
Best days ahead or behind?: Probably behind, although “Chuck” has been skillful in creating new arcs for its characters, with the season finale offering the promise of more interesting adventures to come.
– Jon Weisman

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
(HBO)
Strengths: Well worth the long between-seasons wait, “Curb” tickled again this time around with its “Seinfeld” reunion arc.
Weaknesses: No secret at this point that with “Curb,” it’s a fine line between witty and wincing.
Best days ahead or behind?: No series gets better after seven seasons, but “Curb” has been adept at maintaining a consistent level.
– Jon Weisman

“Entourage”
(HBO)
Strengths: When all the yelling and screaming was over, Ari became one of Hollywood’s ultimate powerbrokers. Keeping the focus on his manic dealmaking makes for happy viewing.
Weaknesses: The storylines for the fellas feel awfully played out. Eric’s on-again, off-again relationship woes were more annoying than amusing, and having a bored Vince trying to figure out his plans when he’s not bed-hopping was far from compelling.
Best days ahead or behind?: Clearly behind. There may be a good storyline or two left, but it all feels like a stretch six years into the run.
– Stuart Levine

“Family Guy”
(Fox)
Strengths: The irreverent Griffins and their zany (and downright insane) friends and neighbors are arguably the funniest and most controversial folks — animated or not — on television.
Weaknesses: Consistency — some episodes are terrific while others are ridiculously over-the-top, even by “Family Guy” standards.
Best days ahead or behind?: The show’s golden years have passed, but Seth MacFarlane’s slightly demented comedy genius will be cranking out laugh-and-cringe-worthy material for years to come.
– Sandie Angulo Chen

“How I Met Your Mother”
(CBS)
Strengths: Through the show’s mix of shtick and substance, the characters have long since formed a bond with viewers that keeps them tuning in for what will happen next.
Weaknesses: Everyone’s quirks are becoming more exaggerated and harder to swallow as time passes.
Best days ahead or behind?: Add this show to the list of series that would probably benefit from a “Lost”-style end date.
– Jon Weisman

“The Office”
(NBC)
Strengths: Still the best (and bravest) network show when it comes to dark humor.
Weaknesses: Strong character arcs were a trademark for “The Office,” but for the first time in its six seasons, the program seemed confused about its direction.
Best days ahead or behind?: No insult intended in saying that the series is unlikely to recapture its glorious peak.
– Jon Weisman

“Parks and Recreation”
(NBC)
Strengths: The way “Parks” gelled into a series with uniquely crazy but priceless characters has been a marvel. The show never has a wasted moment.
Weaknesses: Mainly just having to fight to win back viewers who jumped ship after its less impressive rookie season.
Best days ahead or behind?: The current foundation leaves lots of creative territory left to mine — and more viewers to wow.
– Jon Weisman

“Party Down”
(Starz)
Strengths: Dry as the cocktails the catering characters concoct, yet in its own way funny and even sweetly sentimental.
Weaknesses: Like “Curb” and “Office,” has its share of cringe-inducing humor that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Best days ahead or behind?: Fighting to stay on the air, but creatively the show isn’t close to being exhausted.
– Jon Weisman

“Two and a Half Men”
(CBS)
Strengths: The interplay between hedonistic Charlie Sheen, uptight Jon Cryer, and the now-high school-age Angus Jones keeps this risque sitcom fresh and funny after seven seasons.
Weaknesses: The humor can be sophomoric, and Sheen’s offscreen domestic hassles could spell trouble for a show about a bimbo-dating, middle-aged commitment-phobe.
Best days ahead or behind?: Sheen’s back on board with a new two-year deal, and his real-life bad-boy persona will only serve to inspire a writing staff that knows how to go for the jugular.
– Graham Flashner

“United States of Tara”
(Showtime)
Strengths: A stunning, versatile performance from lead actress Toni Collette, who won the 2009 Emmy for this role and is surrounded by a strong supporting cast.
Weaknesses: Storylines that border on the ludicrous: Tara’s male “alter” Buck has a (lesbian?) love affair with a cocktail waitress (Joey Lauren Adams); later, Tara becomes therapist to herself via a new alter. Creator Diablo Cody’s writing is perfectly quirky, but it’s a tone the show’s other writers struggle to imitate.
Best days ahead or behind?: Season one was solid, but the show’s had trouble retaining its top producers, and season two has felt inconsistent.
– Paige Albiniak

“Weeds”
(Showtime)
Strengths: Mary-Louise Parker, Justin Kirk, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon and the rest of the original pot-dealing crew are among primetime’s finest comedic ensembles.
Weaknesses: The Mexican druglord fiance/new baby plotlines have alienated even diehard viewers, who pine away for the good old days of Agrestic.
Best days ahead or behind: Behind. Perkins’ recently announced exit is a reminder of how much better the series was when based in the “little boxes” of suburbia.
– Sandie Angulo Chen

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